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The collaboration will focus on the investigational candidate JTX-2011 and up to four other early-stage programs in immune-oncology.
Celgene is ramping up its cancer drug development pipeline and has chosen another partner in the immune-oncology space. Jounce Therapeutics announced on July 19, 2016 that it will be Celgene’s newest collaborator to develop and commercialize various immunotherapies targeting “hot” or inflamed tumors affecting B cells, T cells, and macrophages. Celgene already has existing partnerships for the development of CAR-T therapies with bluebirdbio and Juno Therapeutics.
Through the agreement with Celgene, Jounce will get an upfront payment of $225 million and a $36-million equity investment. It will also would be eligible for milestone payments and royalties on the drugs it develops with Celgene of up to $2.3 billion. Specifically, it would get 60% of the profits from its lead candidate, JTX-2011, and 25% profit from the first additional program. For the subsequent programs (of up to three), Jounce and Celgene would share profits equally. Celgene would retain rights to market the drugs overseas, although Jounce would get royalty payments.
The first target of interest, JTX-2011, is a monoclonal antibody (mAb) that binds to a protein on the surface of T cells called the inducible T-cell costimulatory (ICOS, or CD278). It is believed that ICOS plays an important role in immune response and cell signaling of helper T cells. The companies plan to test the investigational agent as a standalone therapy and in combination with other therapies, most likely with immune checkpoint inhibitors. The investigational molecule will likely enter Phase I clinical trials by the close of 2016.
Notably, Celgene is also in a partnership to develop AstraZeneca’s durvalumab (MEDI4736), a mAb directed against programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) in blood disorders. Durvalumab is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes, acute myeloid leukemia, lymphoma, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The second target of interest that Jounce and Celgene plan to develop is a PD-1 inhibitor (called JTX-4014), which seeks to block PD-1 on the surface of T effector cells.